Last week in my PolSci 101 lecture, we talked about sport and competitiveness. We talked about why we compete and discussed Eric Dunnings “The Dynamics of Modern Sport”. In a class activity, we concluded that Dunning believed that modern sports are serious and competitive, as opposed to non-serious and fun (see the chart on the left). This got me thinking about modern sports, specifically youth sports and the growing competitiveness of it.
As a kid, I loved playing sports. I loved summertime because it was all play and no work. I spent almost all of my free time playing sports, whether it be pickup or organized games. Yeah I wanted to win, but my main concern was enjoying myself and having fun. As I grew older, the focus quickly began to shift. Teams started to be more selective, practices became more demanding, and winning was everything. It wasn’t long before I was wondering what happened to the fun. As we were discussing the growing competitiveness of amateur sports in my Pol Sci 101 lecture, I began to think back to my youth sports days, and how the competitiveness of the sports hurt my overall enjoyment of the games, which made me wonder if youth sports were becoming too competitive to the point that they are no longer enjoyable.
Between 30 million and 45 million American kids participate in some form of athletics each year. Many of these kids are not just involved in recreational (or “for fun”) leagues, but they are involved in travel leagues or on tournament teams. Teams like this require more time commitment, not just for traveling, but for practicing as well. These teams also often have tryouts, leaving many kids to feel left out if they don’t make the team. Many teams also have a year-round schedule and don’t allow their players to participate in other sports, for fear of injury or lack of commitment. In high school, my baseball coach didn’t allow any of our team to join the ski club, because the ski season came just a few months before baseball season and he didn’t want to risk injuries. So at this point, sports were not only ruining their own enjoyment, but my enjoyment outside of the sport.
I played on multiple travel baseball teams between the ages of 8 and 17, one of which had a different coach for each aspect of the game, similar to professional teams. I had a hitting coach, a pitching coach, and several other coaches outside of the normal head coach. It is the “professionalization of youth sports”. But why is it necessary? Why can’t kids just go out and have fun? The odds of these kids going on to professional careers in athletics is very slim, so why are we having them specialize in one sport instead of just enjoying their youth years?
Now does any of this mean that I believe that kids should not play sports because the competitiveness will ruin their lives? No, not at all. As I said before, I loved playing sports and I made some of my closest friends through sports. What I believe is that the extra practices, commitment to one sport, high-intensity coaches, etc, is taking the focus off of having fun and putting it on winning. I am a big advocate of youth sports, but I do not agree with the direction that it is heading in terms of competitiveness.